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Jesse's Book Nook

Queer Japan: Personal Stories of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals


Queer Japan: Personal Stories of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals Translated and Edited by Barbara Summerhawk; Cheiron McMahill and Darren McDonald; New Victoria Publishers; P.O. Box 27, Norwich, VT 05055; 218 pages; $16.95.

Tokyo Vanilla by Thomas Boggs; The Gay Men's Press; 272 pages; $14.95.
kabuki.jpg - 16.20 K The Japanese homosexual tradition is as old as Japan itself. As Partings At Dawn: An Anthology of Japanese Gay Literature made clear, life and literature in Early Japan abounded in homoeroticism between men, whether they be samurai, Buddhist monks or kabuki actors.

Unfortunately, all this was seemingly done away with during the past century, a time when the Land of the Rising Sun underwent extensive "westernization". Though Japan does not have a sodomy law, Japanese society is prudish even by American standards, and does not look kindly at sex outside the marital bond.

"Although Japanese homosexuals are rarely the targets of overt violence, their very existence is denied by society. This form of disavowed oppression serves to mask the faces of both the perpetrators and the victims of discrimination in Japan."

Few cultures are as family-oriented as the Japanese; and to this day a person who does not marry is looked upon as an outcast. As a result many Japanese lesbians and gay men remain in the closet and marry as does the hero of Thomas Boggs's Tokyo Vanilla.

Previous Reviews from the GayToday Archive:
Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan

Buddhism After Patriarchy

Mystics, Myths, Symbols & Gay Buddhists

Related Sites:
Queer Resource Directory-Japan
GayToday does not endorse related sites.

As bad as are the conditions that face Japanese gay men, at least male privilege allows them the opportunities to discreetly pursue sexual liaisons (gay and otherwise) outside of the marriage bond.

queerjapan.jpg - 4.83 K This is an option denied most Japanese lesbians or, indeed, most Japanese women. "Lesbians have faced a double oppression in Japan - as lesbians and as women," notes the Introduction to Queer Japan, the first comprehensive collection of personal stories about Japanese lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

As in other countries, women make less money and do not enjoy the discretionary income that many men take for granted. Thus, "the social and economic disparity that characterizes Japanese society as a whole can be seen within the lesbian and gay community.

For example, in the biggest gay neighborhood in Tokyo, Shinjuku Ni-Chome, there are said to be 200 to 300 gay men's bars, discos, and shops, while there are fewer than 10 bars for lesbians."

In spite of all the drawbacks, a Japanese LGBT movement exists, though it is not as extensive as the ones in North America, Western Europe, or Australia.

Though Japanese lesbians do not have the commercial establishments that their brothers frequent, they benefit from the existence of lesbian-feminist centers, Asian Lesbian Networks, and the annual Dyke Weekend held in the country not far from Tokyo.

Groups like the Japan Association for the Lesbian and Gay Movement (OCCUR) unite Japanese gays to attack repression and discrimination. Many Japanese queers were inspired by their country's first Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade, which brought out over 1,200 people in Tokyo in 1994.

As I mentioned before, Queer Japan is the first collection of personal stories by and about Japanese lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

The narratives collected and translated by Barbara Summerhawk, Cheiron McMahill and Darren McDonald reveal a society like ours, in which queers must fight for the right to be themselves. We meet all kinds of LGBT people in our journey through Queer Japan, from "A Lesbian in Hokkaido" to a self-described "lascivious bisexual" to "An Actor in Japanese Pink [Gay Erotic] Films".

Equally interesting are the Appendices that supplement the personal stories: "A Survey of Japanese Lesbians", excerpts from the Japanese Womyn's BiNet newsletter; and the story of "Japan's First Homosexual Discrimination Suit" filed (1990) by OCCUR against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for its refusal to allow gays to stay at its youth center (OCCUR eventually won).

tokyovani.jpg - 14.46 K An even more interesting, though fictional, depiction of gay male life in Japan is provided by Thomas Boggs's Tokyo Vanilla. Tokyo Vanilla is the story of a young man, Fumio, who like many others comes out while studying in Tokyo.

Fumio eventually becomes a "host" at one of Tokyo's most exclusive clubs, is kept by a rich professor, and eventually marries his sugar daddy's daughter. Boggs, an American-Japanese who spent most of his life in Tokyo, enriches his narrative with details of Japanese gay life, from public toilets to gay bars, erotic cinemas and the aforementioned "host clubs".

Note: Those who want to read more about Japan's glorious gay past should read Partings at Dawn: An Anthology of Japanese Gay Literature, edited by Stephen D. Miller (Gay Sunshine Press; $19.95). Going from the sublime to the less sublime, are the wonderful Japanese animations that put U.S. cartoons to shame. One of these, the series Kizuna Part 1 & 2, deals with a gay relationship with sensitivity and wit.


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